Sun has added multi-vendor virtualisation and data protection to its mid-range drive arrays.

Aimed at mid-range enterprise customers looking to consolidate their storage, the 6920 can combine Sun arrays, plus EMC's CX (Clariion) and HP's EVA arrays. The drive space in these arrays is pooled into a single logical SAN which can then be sectioned up and parcelled out to connected servers.

Data mirroring, replication and snapshot services are layered onto the virtualisation software. SAN array management of the different vendors' arrays uses a single interface. The arrays can have different types of disc, such as the 6920's own Fibre Channel, and SATA in Sun's 6130, OEM'd from Engenio, to provide a tiered storage base for information lifecycle management.

The Enterprise Storage Group's Tony Asaro, a senior analyst, thinks it's significant: "It really isn't the same old thing with a new coat of paint. It is a new way to do SAN from a major vendor."

Drive arrays in modular form, like the 6920, are growing in appeal because they are cheaper and easier to grow than monolithic high-end arrays. Tom Georgens, CEO of Engenio, said: "Modular offerings are the dominant paradigm in open systems. I see high-end array functions moving to modular arrays"

Sun is bringing enterprise array features, found on systems like partner HDS' high-end TagmaStore, to the less expensive mid-range. John McArthur, an IDC group VP, says the 6920 is indeed a "more affordable" product.

Sun will add support for IBM and HDS mid-range arrays to the 6920 in the future. The 6920 places storage intelligence at the array front end before the SAN storage fabric. This approach, shared with HDS, is diffent from the approach of EMC, HP and IBM.